KUALA LUMPUR: US President Barack Obama called yesterday for resolve in the face of heightened jihadist threats, insisting panicked citizens must not succumb to fear and urging world leaders not to abandon a climate summit in Paris. With Brussels in lockdown, cities from Beirut to Bamako reeling from attacks, and Americans jittery that they too may come under assault, Obama said the world must show steel. That starts, he said, with leaders who are scheduled to attend climate talks later this month in Paris, where 130 people were killed in one night of blood-soaked violence.
The perpetrators of the Paris attacks were not “masterminds” he said, but rather “a bunch of killers with good social media”. “It’s absolutely vital for every country, every leader, to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business,” he said. They must also show that “Paris, one of the most beautiful, enticing cities in the world, is not going to be cowered by the violent demented actions of a few”.
Facing accusations that he has allowed the Islamic State group to spread by refusing to send US troops to Syria or step up the air campaign there, Obama made his most determined pledge yet to win the fight. “The American people in the past have confronted some very real, enormous threats. And we beat them. We vanquished them,” he said. “This will be no different.” But Obama sought to show that even as allies take the fight to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, an equally vital battle will be fought on the home front.
“In addition to hunting down terrorists, in addition to effective intelligence, in addition to missile strikes and in addition to cutting off financing,” he said, “the most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL is to say that we’re not afraid.” “They cannot strike a mortal blow against France or the United States or a country like Malaysia, but they can make people fearful,” Obama said, speaking in Kuala Lumpur and using an acronym for Islamic State.
Obama also pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to align himself with the US-led coalition, noting that IS has been accused of bringing down a Russian passenger jet last month, killing 224 people. “He needs to go after the people who killed Russian citizens,” he said of Putin. While Russia has stepped up its air campaign in Syria, Obama said Moscow has focused its attention on moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, a Russian ally. He called on Russia to make a “strategic adjustment” and drop its support for Assad, insisting the violence in Syria cannot be stopped as long as Assad is in office. “It will not work to keep him in power,” Obama said. “We can’t stop the fighting.”
Obama was ending a nine-day trip to Turkey and Asia that has been clouded by the Paris terror attacks and credible threats that prompted Belgian authorities to deploy troops and impose a lockdown as they hunt suspects. Amid wall-to-wall and sometimes breathless television coverage of terror threats, Obama urged journalists to “maintain perspective”. He also addressed sometimes shrill calls for the United States to close its doors to refugees from Syria and Iraq, for fear jihadists may lurk among them. He urged Americans against “succumbing to the fear that allows us to abandon our values, to abandon how we live”.
Obama, the son of a migrant mother and migrant father, voiced his personal determination to face down anti-refugee measures that he has already threatened to veto. “Refugees who end up in the United States are the most vetted, scrutinized, thoroughly investigated individuals that ever arrive on American shores,” he said. Remembering a Saturday visit to children from Myanmar at a refugee centre in Malaysia, Obama urged compassion. “If you are a parent and you saw those kids, and thought about what they went through, the notion we couldn’t find a home for them anywhere in the United States of America…?” he said, trailing off into anger. “That is contrary to our values.”
The president also paid tribute to Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old from California who was killed in the Paris attacks, and Anita Ashok Datar, a 41-year-old from Maryland who died in Friday’s attack in Mali. He said the women reminded him of his teenage daughters and his late mother. “It is worth us remembering when we look at the statistics that there are beautiful, wonderful lives behind the terrible death tolls we see in these places,” he said.